'The end of the goddamn family dog'

Foreclosure and eviction crisis leaves lots of pets homeless


Former Bottom of the Hill and DNA Lounge doorperson Greg Slugocki wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to feed and care for 75 rescued dogs at Milo Sanctuary, one of the largest dog and cat rescue sanctuaries in the country. It's one-third the size of Golden Gate Park and tucked in the mountains of Mendocino County, north of Ukiah.

Slugocki has worked like a dog since he was hired last November, part of a crew of two who cover 283 acres of mountainous terrain. But it's something else that has recently made his head spin.

"The rate of animals we've had to take because of foreclosures is astronomical," Slugocki said. "I've taken more dogs in the last three months than in the last two years."

Milo Sanctuary holds adoptions in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Rafael, and he communicates daily with Bay Area shelters and rescues, which also have reported unprecedented increases in animals reluctantly turned over by their desperate owners.

Slugocki may be in the backwoods of Mendocino County, but he's not alone in this dilemma. Shelters all over the country are reporting rising numbers of dogs, cats, horses, and all kinds of family pets made homeless by the home foreclosure crisis.

In January, San Francisco Animal Care and Control — the municipal shelter and adoption department obligated to take all animals — documented, for the first time, an unprecedented increase in owner-surrendered animals. The report found that since August 2008, there's been steady monthly increase in such animals, amounting to a 13 percent average rise since last year. Last month saw the highest number of owner-surrendered animals, with an increase of 35 percent.

Though there may not be a clear, quantifiable way of determining whether those owner-surrendered animals are in fact casualties of the foreclosure crisis, animal rescue folks say there is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that this is the case. "Our rescue partners are stretched," SFACC director Rebecca Katz told the Guardian. "We're stretched."

Indeed, almost every kennel contains a dog with a tag reading "owner- surrender." Animal Care and Control runs a "no kill" shelter — which means animals are euthanized only if they are too sick to be treated or too aggressive to qualify for adoption — has had to spill some of its new arrivals over into its adoption kennels rather than give all the new arrivals a chance for the owners to reclaim them.

"I've been dealing with this shelter for 15 years," said Paley Boucher, founder of volunteer-run Rocket Dog rescue, which saves almost 200 dogs from lethal injection each year. "It used to stand out when you saw a dog that was owner-surrendered. But now almost all of them are." Linda Pope with Nike Animal Rescue Foundation says dogs adopted and returned due to foreclosures is an entirely new phenomenon to the center.

Cat Brown, deputy director of the San Francisco SPCA, reported a rise in owner-surrendered animals. "We feel it's directly related to the economy," she added. "It's about people losing their jobs and thinking about what they can give up."

Gary Tiscornia, executive director of Monterey County's SPCA, says there have been a high number of foreclosure animals and a lack of communication between the shelters and the banks, real estate agents, property inspectors, and other entities that find abandoned animals in vacated homes.

Tiscornia said that Realtors in California have found animals in all kinds of conditions in vacated homes, including rottweillers abandoned with a few bags of food and a tub of water, and a dog left for dead in an empty house.

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